This article has been written for The New Indian Express.
JAN SUNWAYI AT DANTEWADA
Activists, social workers, ex-justices, ex-bureaucrats, policemen, journalists, intellectuals and citizens from all across India are descending into the jungles of Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for an independent public hearing held on the Salwa Judum, Operation Green Hunt and the Adivasi struggle for justice.
Home Minister Chidambaram had showed initial signs that he may also be present on the 7th of January public hearing, yet was advised by governor and former Director of the IB, E.S.L. Narsimhan to reconsider his position. Meanwhile many observers claimed that he probably wouldn’t be expected for the very reasons the Jan Sunwayi was being organized.
For instance, in the summer of 2007, twelve-year-old Hungi Madkam, daughter of Kesha Madkam, disappeared after a workforce of the CRPF and SPOs had raided her village of Kottanendra at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. The FIR on her disappearance was not registered at the local police station. A complaint was written to the National Human Rights Commission that would forward the complaint dated 22/09/2008, received from her brother Lakhmu Madkam to the Director General, CRPF on 25/10/2008.
The Director General recommends that the local police investigate into the matter. Instead, they threatened and beat up the petitioner Madkam Lakhmu and then claimed that he wasn’t co-operating with them in the investigation.
Case closed. A young girl who disappears ceases to exist.
Two years would pass and as is the story of the adivasis of Bastar, she is not where she belongs – for she is neither with her family, nor in her home, nor on her land. She was neither booked, nor taken to a juvenile home, nor a Salwa Judum camp. She simply vanished.
Her brother Lakhmu Madkam would probably want to have a word with Home Minister Chidambaram in the upcoming Jan Sunwayi.
‘Where is my sister?’ Of course, Mr. Chidambaram wouldn’t know, nor have any power to do anything about it. Nor would he know about Vanjam Deve’s 20 year old daughter Vanjam Jogi of the village of Arlampalli who was allegedly abducted by the Salwa Judum in January 2008. Nor would he even know about the whereabouts of 22 year old Kumari Baiko of the village of Dharmaguda who was abducted by SPOs in the summer of 2008. Nor would he know about the killing of her father Chinna Baiko at Errabore camp. This particular case was eventually taken to the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur by activists and family members of the victims.
The court has asked why it took eight months to register the first complaint against the police at the police station. As of now, the original petitioner of the complaint is hiding in fear of police/Salwa Judum reprisal. If he doesn’t resurface, the story would be eventually thrown out of the court.
Yet the pattern of hopelessness and threats to the lives of victims and their family members is widespread in the face of the complete lack of any semblance of a witness protection program.
Take the case of Madkam Madvi (name changed) of Bhandarpadar, Konta block, who was allegedly gang-raped by SPOs at Konta police station in April of 2008. According to her testimony, she claims that she was taken to the police station by the Salwa Judum, robbed of some Rs. 25,000, then kept alone in a room. She was first raped by a SPO in an isolated room in the police station, then blindfolded and gang-raped over two days at the station by three more unidentified persons.
Eventually, she was set free and after further harassment she escaped to Andhra Pradesh. She had hoped to start over and had even married.
At this point, members of the Salwa Judum traced her down in Andhra Pradesh and the harassment continued. According to her husband, they had threatened him saying, ‘we were going to sell this girl and earn some money but now that you married her, we have suffered a loss that you shall now have to payback.’ They then stole Rs.3500, one cow, three goats and two chickens to ‘make up for their loss.’ After further threatening them, they went back to Chhattisgarh, ensuring that Madvi would sleep in a different room in a different village every night, living in constant fear.
Finally, through the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a complaint was written to the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. There was no reply for months. The matter was then taken to the court as a private complaint. The case was shifted from Konta to the Dantewada sessions court on the 9th of March, 2009. Harassment began soon after. SPOs crossed the state border and searched her house on the 10th of April, 2009. And on the 2nd of December, 2009, Madvi’s father and a boy who shared her husband’s name were apprehended and taken to Chintur Police Station in Andhra Pradesh. There, the father was threatened and the boy was beaten. They were told to bring Madvi to Konta police station. At this point, she had gone into hiding, knowing that her next appearance at court was to be held on the 10th of December when she had to depose.
She would probably have a lot to say at the Jan Sunwayi as well, provided someone comes to listen.
And the stories would go on. No one in Dantewada has forgotten Ranibodli where 55 policemen were slaughtered. Those who survived the attack were protected by local tribals. That no one remembered.
No one has forgotten the forceful expulsion of villagers from 644 villages. No one has forgotten the issue of security from Maoist violence. No one has forgotten the attack on Errabore camp that was burnt down by the Maoists and 25 people, including a woman and her baby were killed. The Maoists claim that the majority of those killed were SPOs. And no one has forgotten that quite a few of the SPOs themselves are forced to join the service. The fact is, for the majority of the displaced the only option of employment and sustenance is the SPO service – Rs.2,100 a month. The villagers of Bastar have little choice in the face of the complete destruction of their agrarian way of life – agriculture has all but stopped in the greater parts of Bijapur and Dantewada district.
Yet, disturbingly, a majority of the villagers were intimidated and threatened to become SPOs. And this continues even now.
Take the instance of Lingaram Kodopi, 24, from the village of Sameli, Kuakonda Block who was arrested on the 31st of August, 2009 and was being forced to join the SPO service. The rationale behind it is simple. Once Linga Kodopi is shown in close proximity to the police, the Maoists themselves might suspect him of being an ‘informer’, and thus he’d live in further fear of them. Once he’s an SPO, he can supply the security services a wealth of information of the ‘interior’ areas. Therefore he was allegedly kept in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. First, Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra denies that he was in their custody, then eventually, they accept that they have an SPO by the name of Lingaram Kodopi.
Through activists, the family filed a Habeas Corpus petition in Bilaspur High Court, asking the police to present Lingaram Kodopi at Court. At Court, Linga told the judge that he did become an SPO but he would like to leave the service. The Court directed the police to release him, and he was released on the 7th of October, 2009.
On the way back home to his village, the police detained his older brother for petitioning the High Court and released him after two days. They also detained his father Joga Ram and had asked him to revoke the affidavit that was detailing custodial torture. He was released after a week.
Lingaram Kodopi, out of fear of further harassment, doesn’t live in Dantewada anymore.
Similarly, the police had also taken 17 villagers from Goomiyapal, Kutrem, Phirnaar, Hiroli and Darpa from Kuakonda block and kept them in forced confinement over a period of two weeks, forcing them to become SPOs.
Maybe they’d like to have a word with the Home Minister as well.